Saturday, August 16, 2014

Wedding Photography Tips - Part 4, Editing & Post-Processing

The wedding is over, the guests have gone home, and the couple are on their way to Barbados or somewhere. And you did a good job taking photos - if you followed Amateur Nikon's advice, that is ;)
But no, your job is not over yet. In a sense, it's just about to begin! You see, capturing the image is only the first half; it's akin to gathering the ingredients of the recipe to great wedding photographs. Now, you must mix them and blend them, shake 'em and bake 'em, to produce some really stunning images. Today, we'll be talking about editing and post-processing wedding photos.

Careful Post-processing Can Work Wonders for Your Images

DOs and DON'Ts of Wedding Photography Editing
As with any kind of photography editing, it is important that you have an editing strategy. That means, you should approach the editing process holistically, in its entirety. Don't pick up an image, forget about all other images, then start applying some quasi-random filters on it to see how it looks. Having an editing strategy means that all or most images of a certain group must look similar. In other words, if you have a group of, say, 10 images from the bride walking down the aisle, you shouldn't process 3 of them with harsh shadows, 4 of them with creamy highlights, 2 with HDR-like midtones, also throwing a sepia into the image cauldron. You should maintain consistency of style, while having variations in composition.

That brings us to an other important element of post-processing, which applies to other kinds of photography as well but is particularly important for wedding photography:
Think what it is you try to achieve, think how you can achieve it, and think which tool(s) you will need to do that.
For instance: You're having an image a group of images with the bride & groom surrounded by serene, calm fields, bathed in the evening sunlight. Your thought process should be (according to the mantra above):
I want to emphasize the serenity and calmness; I can achieve it by reducing contrast and adding highlight glow; I will use curves and the 'Diffuse Glow' filter.
That's how you should be proceeding. Of course, this is only a very generic example. Especially working with a group of images, you need to judge whether some images would be better served with a slightly different procedure - still within the same stylistic framework.

Specific Tactics for Wedding Photography Editing
After we talked about strategy, now it's time for tactics. By that, I refer to specific procedures and Photoshop post-processing that can help you enhance your photos. This part is far less demanding as you might guess - although, the workload depends a lot on how successfully you handled the image-taking part. The better job you did capturing, the more relaxed you can be editing.

Typical wedding photography post-processing might involve the following*:
  • Skin Smoothing
  • Adding Glow
  • Framing/Presentation Tactics
  • Color Casts
*This list does not contain any exposure, white balance, or similar corrections you have to make developing the RAW file. I assume you begin with an image whose white balance, exposure, and tonality is suitable for whatever processing you plan to make. 

Skin Smoothing is often necessary. Not because the bride is not beautiful, but because of the technical limitations of a camera. Cameras can't capture a scene the way our eyes see it. A shadow under an eye; a little spot distracting an even surface; highlights that make the skin look greasy and dirty. All these are things we do not notice on everyday life, when we see a person. But once they are encaptured on a photo, they are very visible. Read more about this in my article on Photography and Reality.

For a fast, efficient, and - the most important - natural-looking skin smoothing Photoshop procedure, click here

Adding Glow is often used to create an ethereal, dream-like mood in wedding photos. Start with an image that is properly-to-overexposed. It doesn't have to be high-key, but there should be a healthy amount of bright highlights around (variations are also possible, though; look at the image below). Photoshop's Filter>Distort>Diffuse Glow is highly efficient. Make sure white is your background color. The values depend on your desired effect and individual image, but remember that less is more, generally speaking. I often use 0,1,7 (Graininess, Glow Amount, Clear Amount).

Framing and Presentation refer to post-processing that draws attention to the subject - generally, the people. Don't imagine any weird frame shapes or stuff like that (use these tricks very sparingly). I mostly refer to either vignetting or, conversely, brightening the border, depending on what kind of image you're working with. On the photo above, a vignetting effect helps darken the already dark surroundings and emphasize the lovely couple.

Color Casts is a very delicate area. There are two reasons for this: a) It is an effect that is hopelessly overused and misused (I blame the ready-made plugins & Instagram-type effects); b) sometimes the clients just don't want such photos - they consider them as "wrong", "flawed", or just "off" in some way. So, proceed with caution. If you are unsure about yourself, or about the couple's expectations, it's much safer to simply offer a "true color" version - there's nothing wrong with that, provided the white balance is accurate.

If you do want to use color casts, remember the advice at the beginning of this article. You must have a strategy and a reason for what you're doing. And you must also understand the effect & emotion colors inspire. It's a bit like colors and flowers:  red means "I love you passionately", yellow means "I'm jealous", white means "my love is pure", and all that. Mambo-jumbo maybe, but our unconscious works in mysterious ways. It's the same thing with photography. Greens & blues will convey an aura of stillness, that can be interpreted either as serenity or as - horror of horrors! - acidity and decay (especially with greens). You don't have to freak out (heck, I also use green/blue casts on my portrait photography), but you do have to be aware of what kind of thoughts and emotions your choices might inspire.

There are many ways to implement color casts. DON'T use Photoshop plugins or actions that you found somewhere. Learn to work with Curves instead. Use a Curves Adjustment Layer and work on that. Whatever you do on the RGB channel has an effect on the tonality of the image (how bright or dark; how blocked or not the shadows, etc.), while working on individual color channels helps you introduce the casts you want. If you want something to help you get started, read the text and follow the image examples of this article.

Next time we'll be talking about the workflow of a wedding photographer - well, mine, in particular :D

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